Lostprophets sit down with Lizzy Beecham to discuss twelve years in the music industry, dealing with critics and being more Welsh than a bunch of daffodils
Sporting sunglasses indoors at 11am, biceps inked with tattoos and exuding an utterly unapologetic vibe, Ian Watkins and Lee Gaze of Lostprophets appear like your quintessential jaded rockers. However, a few moments in their company reveals two thoughtful men who worked to build successful careers and leave the small town of Pontypridd, Wales. April 2012 sees the release of their fifth album Weapons, quite a feat in the merry-go round of modern music. The band formed in 1997, and while on the verge of embarking on a cycle of promotion and touring, look back on their career, which has for the most part thrived during undoubtedly the most uncertain, tumultuous time in the music industry generally. The current popular music trend for solo female singers and celebrity DJs is markedly different to the scene dominated with guitar bands in which they rose to prominence. Sanguine about not conforming to current trends in music, Gaze comments that the dearth of rock at the top of the charts “isn’t good or bad – it is how it is”. Both feel it merely reflects a natural ebb and flow and a reaction to something of an over-saturation of guitar bands and not the death of ‘guys with guitars’ as some in the indie press lament. Gaze remarks that there was an oversaturation of indie and heavy rock in the early part of the decade and that greater openness by labels, stations and other components of the music industry led to an understandable public fatigue. Watkins and Gaze speak with a great self-awareness and come across as perhaps uncomfortable with their place in that wave. They now seem to desire their music to be judged not as part of a movement, but merely for what it is.
Lostprophets have accumulated a tidy haul of Kerrang! Awards and still enthrall a dedicated fanbase who adore their blend of aggressive guitars and metal sound, so is Weapons more of the same? Of the recording process Watkins says “The way we work is still exactly the same … when we are altogether we revert back to that mentality.”
The music industry of 2012 is somewhat different to that which Watkins and Gaze encountered when Lostprophets released their first studio album Thefakesoundsofprogress all the way back at the turn of the century, but Watkins maintains that this change has not gone far enough. He expresses a resolute belief that the record industry’s refusal to “embrace the internet … do everything they can as preventative measures” has left the bands and artists in a financially vulnerable position and tech companies such as Apple on top. Yet critical as they may be of the perspectives and practices of the record industry, they appear to fully accept their place within it, terming it a “necessary evil … if you love doing it then you hope that you have a team that backs you.” The pair come across as pragmatic, and it seems unimaginable that they would wholly reject the industry norms.
Both Watkins and Gaze appear to resolutely feel a strong sense of Welsh identity despite sustained periods away from Wales whilst touring, and both speak with genuine fondness of Pontypridd. Watkins muses that being Welsh ensures “that you don’t disappear up your own arse.” Do they feel that their career influenced the generation of teenagers for whom Lostprophets’ anthemic rock was the soundtrack to their youth? “Kids where we were can start a band, see it as something more realistic because we did it [when they didn’t have that],” offers Gaze.
When questioned about the sometimes harsh critical receptions they have previously received, Gaze emphatically states “I checked out on what critics said, if you do read it you cannot but get offended by it … usually they are giving you a bad review for the wrong reasons.” One is left with the clear impression that Lostprophets don’t allow any derision or negative sentiments to get in the way of their music. Gaze however, is careful to temper this statement by saying how the band view each record as an exciting challenge to appeal to new and different audiences, “with the core fan base you could make a record about beans on toast and they would like it … I always ask ‘what is everybody else going to think?’”
Both state that they firmly believe in engaging with an audience as being the most integral part of performing live, but they also accept the role their visual appearance plays. Watkins jokes that “We’ve always looked like this even before the band. The idiots in our town wear ridiculous shit.”
And as our time concludes the conversation moves to discussions of early 1990’s hip-hop, playing at festivals and collaborating on Labrinth’s album. Watkins and Gaze are still dedicated and excited about music; the interesting change will surely be the niche they find among today’s music fans.